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Decoding The Giving Code (And Turning It Into Action Plan): Part I

Happy New Year everyone! Hope everyone had a great and successful holiday season!!

Third quarter of 2017 was significant in the nonprofit world of Silicon Valley, because of a report named "The Giving Code". This report was published after over a year's study of the mindset of local philanthropists. (Link to this report can be found here). Originally a research project undertaken by David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the report discusses the growing chasm between non profits and the giving style and philosophy of the big philanthropists in the Valley.

According to the report, tech-entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists are employing an increasingly hands-on approach in their favorite causes. This includes influencing the way in which non profits are run, by vouching for a data-driven organization, or running with an emphasis on metrics, in much the same way as these philanthropists run their for-profit undertakings.

Getting a committed major donor is a dream for any nonprofit; however, the thought of changing their work style to woo donors makes many uncomfortable. After all, a non profit should do what is needed to further the mission, and not focus on appeasing donors, correct?

I imagine everyone will instantly agree if they were asked to make some operational improvements, that yield efficiency and greater impact. That sounds reasonable!! That will happen if we decide to make our organization more data-driven, and metrics-focused. The question is, how do we achieve this?

First of all, being data driven is a journey, not a destination.

Second, this needs to be a grassroots-level change. It's not sufficient to have only the board or the management be data-driven, but every individual within the organization should embrace this philosophy. This does not mean that people lose their individuality; it means that everyone within the organization should take the data policies and processes seriously so as to maintain clean and useful data.

Third, this vision is not at all futuristic. The technology and the knowledge to achieve this efficiency are already with us. Perhaps what was missing this far was the open culture of encouragement to adopting this data-driven, metrics-centric style, and of course, an insistence by donors, not management staff.

In this two-part post, we will look at some of the ways that your organization can embark upon this journey.

  • Define Key Performance Indicators (KPI's): Every organization possesses some data already, and can define Key Performance Indicators based on present data to find areas deserve attention and where they deserve kudos. This is an opportunity to discuss what aspects to watch to track your well being and progress. This is likely to be different for each organization, and this step is a result of some discussions, analysis and even a fresh look at your strategy and goals.

  • Instill the Data-driven Philosophy Among Your Organization: Your organizational staff should know how to use your Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) to make better decisions. This step is most crucial, because without appropriate support from your board, executive management and staff, you will not be able to weave metrics into your decision making. This may call for training, either by the spearheading team or by outside partners.

As a starting step, reviewing metrics and drawing reports can be a responsibility of an Executive Director or Director of Fundraising (if it's donor data). When presenting metrics becomes a regular practice, more and more of your team will begin to feel motivated to use them.

  • Set Organizational Processes to Collect Data Insights and Metrics: Many organizations that understand the importance of data do not have formal policies and processes to collect their constituent data. Review all the various touch points that constituents have with your organization and set up standard forms and templates to collect data from them. If your staff interacts with any of these constituents, then the staff should have clearly defined templates, so they know what data to collect, and also access to the constituent system, so that they can enter this information where it becomes instantly usable by others.

  • Make A Priority To Utilize The Collected Data: To utilize these insights across organizations, the staff must draw reports and charts from this data, and those must be shared regularly. Sharing of this information must become a part of regular meeting agenda. This will encourage everyone involved to use the tools to collect this information, and along the way, this step gradually transforms their thought process, and makes them think in a more data driven way.

Above steps will be a great start towards becoming more data-driven. In the next post, I will discuss some enhancements that may take additional effort but will catapult an organization's ability to make data-driven decisions.

If you have already begun to follow some of these practices at your organization, then congratulations! Feel free to share your story with us.

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